Best of the Year 2016

Since The Hope Chest Reviews is not dedicated to the latest book releases, the majority of the books on this list were not published in 2016. Instead the list is compiled from the books that were read and reviewed during the 2016 calendar year. If you would like to view our picks from past years, please visit the archive.

Author of the Year - Winner

J. R. Ward/Jessica Bird (4 – 4 ½ to 5 star reads in a row)

Author of the Year – Runner-Up

E. L. James (2 – 5 star reads in a row)

Best Overall Romance

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (5 stars)

Best Alternate Reality Romances

Desire Unchained by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

The Beast by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

Blood Vow by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

Best Contemporary Romances

Bright Eyes by Catherine Anderson (5 stars)

The Angels' Share by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

His Comfort and Joy by Jessica Bird (4 ½ stars)

Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas (4 ½ stars)

Best Erotic Romances

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (5 stars)

Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James (5 stars)

Best Historical Romances (American)

Never Love a Cowboy by Lorraine Heath (5 stars)

Sweet Annie by Cheryl St. John (5 stars)

Best Historical Romances (Britain & Other Countries)

Princess by Gaelen Foley (5 stars)

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt (5 stars)*

Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt (5 stars)*

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson (5 stars)

The Prince's Bride by Victoria Alexander (4 ½ stars)

To Love and to Cherish by Patricia Gaffney (4 ½ stars)

The Suspect's Daughter by Donna Hatch (4 ½ stars)

Silent Knight by Tori Phillips (4 ½ stars)

Best Male/Male Romance

Daddy, Daddy and Me by Sean Michael (4 ½ stars)

Best Romantic Novellas & Short Stories

One Wilde Weekend by Janelle Denison (5 stars)

A Very Sinful Valentine by Charlotte Featherstone (5 stars)

Blue Crush by Erin McCarthy (5 stars)

Hot and Bothered by Kayla Perrin (5 stars)

Not So Tiny Tim by Robin L. Rotham (5 stars)

Best Romantic Suspense

Saving Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia (5 stars)

One Summer by Karen Robards (5 stars)

Nothing To Fear by Karen Rose (5 stars)

Open Season by Linda Howard (4 ½ stars)

Best Young Adult Fiction

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare (5 stars)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (5 stars)

Best Fantasy Fiction

Dead Beat by Jim Butcher (4 ½ stars)

Best Fantasy Novella

I Was a Teenage Bigfoot by Jim Butcher (4 ½ stars)

Best Graphic Novels

Heroes: Volume One by Jesse Alexander, Aron Eli Coleite, Chuck Kim, Jeph Loeb, Joe Pokaski, Tim Sale, Mark Warshaw (4 ½ stars)

War Cry by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Carlos Gómez, Stjepan Šejić (5 stars)

Best Historical Fiction

Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon (5 stars)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (5 stars)

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon (4 ½ stars)

Best Historical Fiction Novella

Lord John and the Haunted Soldier by Diana Gabaldon (4 ½ stars)

Best Non-Fiction Books

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron, Suzanne Stabile (5 stars)*

How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity by Morgan Guyton (5 stars)*

America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis (5 stars)*

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles (4 ½ stars)

Best Christmas Stories

Not So Tiny Tim by Robin L. Rotham (5 stars)

Blood Vow by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

The Christmas Light by Donna VanLiere (4 ½ stars)

Most Surprising Winner

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron, Suzanne Stabile (5 stars)* - While I consider myself to be a student of personality typing, I’ve been somewhat prejudiced in favor of the Myers-Briggs-Jung typology via the Kiersey Temperament Sorter, because it’s the only method I’d found that seemed accurate. Since I’d never heard of the Enneagram, I went into reading this book with a little bit of skepticism but finished it as a new enthusiastic fan of this personality typing method, who’s now excited to learn more about it.

Funniest Read

Open Season by Linda Howard (4 ½ stars) – While I’ll stop short of calling it a romantic comedy, this story that’s part contemporary romance, part romantic suspense, definitely had some great LOL moments.

Biggest Tearjerker

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (5 stars)

Sweetest Romances

The best romances I read this year that have milder content.

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson (5 stars)

Silent Knight by Tori Phillips (4 ½ stars)

Steamiest Romances

For me, the steamiest romance doesn't necessarily have the most erotic content (although this time it does). Instead it's the book(s) that best combine hot, sexy scenes with a deep emotional connection that really make the pages sizzle.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (5 stars)

Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James (5 stars)

Most Impressive Debut

Only one of these was a 2016 release, but they were the debut books for each of these authors and quite impressive for a first effort.

How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity by Morgan Guyton (5 stars)*

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (5 stars)

Best Overall Hero

Christian Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James)

Best Overall Heroine

Anastasia Steele (Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James)

Most Tortured Hero

Christian Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James)

Most Tortured Heroine

Haven Travis (Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas)

Hottest Hero

Christian Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James)

Most Perfect Couple

Christian Grey & Anastasia Steele (Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James)

Most Evil Villains

Muriel Hardwicke (A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson)

Suresh & Chandramma Ramnath (The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal)

The Lords of Chaos (Duke of Sin* & Duke of Pleasure* by Elizabeth Hoyt)

Nick Tanner (Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas)

Sue/Jane Smith (Nothing To Fear by Karen Rose)

Walter Ormond (Silent Knight by Tori Phillips)

Rodolfo Vitullo (Saving Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia)

Roag (Desire Unchained by Larissa Ione)

Most Memorable Supporting Characters

Natalie's Zany Family (Bright Eyes by Catherine Anderson)

Assail (The Beast by J. R. Ward*)

Simon Lewis (City of Glass by Cassandra Clare)

Annika Svenson & Creed McCabe (Unleashing the Storm by Sydney Croft)

Isaac (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green)

Iris, Lady Jordan (Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

Ruhn (Blood Vow by J. R. Ward*)

Most Memorable Child Characters

Rosie Patterson (Bright Eyes by Catherine Anderson)

Bitty (The Beast* & Blood Vow* by J. R. Ward)

Alec Vaughn (Nothing To Fear by Karen Rose)

Christopher & Peter Fitzroy (Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

Ruth May Price (The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver)

Most Memorable Animal Characters

Chester (Bright Eyes by Catherine Anderson)

Pip (Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

Tommy Teapot (Once Upon a Moonlit Night by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

Bonnie (K Is for Kissed by JossiLynn*)

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Leads

Characters with occupations or circumstances you don't often see in romance.

Natalie Patterson (Bright Eyes by Catherine Anderson) – Singer & Supper club owner

Megha Ramnath (The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal) – Near-victim of bride-burning

Bridget Crumb (Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt*) – Housekeeper

Blake Hunter (K Is for Kissed by JossiLynn*) - Romance novel cover model

Delaney Marsh (Wings of a Dove by Elaine Barbieri) – Newspaper Reporter

Alf (Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt*) - Masquerades as a boy, purveying information by day and playing a masked vigilante by night

Annie Sweetwater (Sweet Annie by Cheryl St. John) – Born with a hip deformity that causes a severe limp

Luck Carpenter (Sweet Annie by Cheryl St. John) – Livery owner

Jessye Kane (Never Love a Cowboy by Lorraine Heath) – Saloon owner & Cattle drive financier

Harrison Bainbridge (Never Love a Cowboy by Lorraine Heath) – English cowboy

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Plots

The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal – A young Indian woman becomes a dutiful wife to her husband via an arranged marriage even though his family treats her like a slave. When her father is unable to produce the promised dowry within the agreed-upon time frame, her husband and mother-in-law plot to burn her alive, but she overhears their scheme, running into the night to her husband’s cousin, the only person she thinks she can trust.

One Summer by Karen Robards – A teenage bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks is wrongly accused of murder and spends ten years in prison. His former high-school teacher is one of the few people who has always believed in his innocence, so when he’s released, she offers him a job, even though the other residents of their small hometown are suspicious of him. The pair are caught up in an explosively passionate affair, but the real killer strikes again, posing a threat to her life.

Saving Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia – A former gangster is on a quest to become a better man, while being determined to keep his family safe and give them all the happy ending they deserve. But when his chief rival begins terrorizing his beloved town and attempts to kidnap the love of his life, he must resurrect his past life long enough to save them all.

Desire Unchained by Larissa Ione – A shy, ordinary girl fell for a sexy stranger who cheated on her, causing her run away where she encountered a werewolf who turned her into one, too, against her will. Now she works for a government para-military organization and is out for revenge against the man she now knows is an incubus. Without a mate, he may go mad when his transition soon hits, but he’s cursed to fade into eternal oblivion if he ever falls in love. When the pair are captured by a black market dealer in demon parts, they rediscover their lost passion, placing them in a race against time to find a way to end the curse.

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Settings

The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal - India

Best Opening Lines

In the fabled, glittering world that was St. Petersburg before the First World War there lived, in an ice-blue palace overlooking the river Neva, a family on whom the gods seemed to have lavished their gifts with an almost comical abundance.” (A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson)

On the whole we're a murderous race.” (Dead Beat by Jim Butcher)

It was, beyond a doubt, the most beautiful prison that he'd ever had the misfortune to occupy.” (Never Love a Cowboy by Lorraine Heath)

There are few worse places for a housekeeper of impeccable credentials to be caught than kneeling on her employer’s bed.” (Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, did not want to die tonight, for three very good reasons.” (Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

Best Overall Quotes

I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even—or maybe especially—the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough.”      – Sarah Bessey (Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women)

Sometimes I wonder if there's something wrong with me. Perhaps I've spent too long in the company of my literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high.”      – Anastasia Steele (Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James)

“Rachel, on the other hand, always had her nose in a book and her head in the clouds.” (One Summer by Karen Robards)

Funniest Quotes

“We are not going to die."

Butters stared up at me, pale, his eyes terrified. "We're not?"

"No. And do you know why?" He shook his head. "Because Thomas is too pretty to die. And because I'm too stubborn to die." I hauled on the shirt even harder. "And most of all because tomorrow is Oktoberfest, Butters, and polka will never die.”      – Harry Dresden (Dead Beat by Jim Butcher)

“It was one of those moments that would have had dramatic music if my life were a movie, but instead I got a radio jingle for some kind of submarine sandwich place blaring over the store's ambient stereo. The movie of my life must be really low-budget.”      – Harry Dresden (Dead Beat by Jim Butcher)

“With a curse, Vishous took after the three free-thinkers, dematerializing out in front of where the trio seemed to be heading. As he re-formed, he knew they were fucking humans even before he saw that the one in the rear was running backward with what was no doubt a cocksucking Apple, iConformist POS front and center and on video record. He fricking iHated anything with a goddamn Macintosh trademark. V jumped out into the guy’s path, which of course J. J. Abrams didn’t notice, because, hello, he was too busy getting footage.”      – Vishous (The Beast by J. R. Ward*)

“Malachi scowled. "I don't remember the Clave inviting you into the Glass City, Magnus Bane."

"They didn't," Magnus said. "Your wards are down."

"Really?" the Consul's voice dripped sarcasm. "I hadn't noticed."

Magnus looked concerned. "That's terrible. Someone should have told you." He glanced at Luke. "Tell him the wards are down.”      – Magnus Bane (City of Glass by Cassandra Clare)

Headline?" he asked.

"'Swing Set Needs Home,'" I said.

"'Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home,'" he said.

"'Lonely, Vaguely Pedophilic Swing Set Seeks the Butts of Children,'" I said.      Hazel Grace Lancaster & Augustus Waters (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green)

Most Emotional Quotes

There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.”      – Hazel Grace Lancaster (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green)

No. No!” he says.

I . . .” He looks wildly around the room. For inspiration? For divine intervention? I don’t know.

You can’t go. Ana, I love you!”

I love you, too, Christian, it’s just—”

No . . . no!” he says in desperation and puts both hands on his head. “Christian . . .”

No,” he breathes, his eyes wide with panic, and suddenly he drops to his knees in front of me, head bowed, long-fingered hands spread out on his thighs. He takes a deep breath and doesn’t move. What?

Christian, what are you doing?”

He continues to stare down, not looking at me.

Christian! What are you doing?”

My voice is high-pitched. He doesn’t move.

Christian, look at me!” I command in panic. His head sweeps up without hesitation, and he regards me passively with his cool gray gaze—he’s almost serene . . . expectant.

Holy Fuck . . . Christian. The submissive.”      – Christian Grey & Anastasia Steele (Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James)

“… even though I knew I had a snowball’s chance in Hades with you.” She sniffed and wiped a tear with the back of her hand. “I just … I just wanted to give you something pure. It’s all I have. Had. Everything else about me is tainted by demon blood. But I had that. And it’s always been yours.”      – Gem (Desire Unchained by Larissa Ione)

Sometimes, in prison, when he’d been lying awake at night staring at the bunk over his head, Johnny had thought that he missed Wolf most of all.

Wasn’t that a damned sad commentary on his life?

The dog whined again. Knowing he was being ridiculous, that he was liable to lose the hand at the wrist when the animal charged, Johnny nonetheless took a step forward, holding out his fingers for sniffing.

Wolf? Come here, boy.”

Incredibly, the huge animal sank to its belly and slunk forward, behaving as if it wanted to believe but feared a cruel trick. Johnny dropped to his knees to greet it, his hands reaching out, burrowing in the coarse hide, stroking and scratching as the dog whined and licked and pawed him and butted him with its head.

Ah, Wolf,” he said as he accepted the truth at last, that this one thing that he had loved had been spared in order to greet him. Then, as the big head snuggled into his lap, he wrapped his arms around the dog’s thick neck and buried his face against the animal’s side.

For the first time in eleven years, he wept.”       – Johnny Harris (One Summer by Karen Robards)

Most Romantic Quotes

Jane, look at me,” he asked, and when she did, he knew she was seeing what she needed in his eyes.

You are the only woman for me–it’s only ever been you. I told you once before, that I have never loved before you, and I will never love again. Jane,” he said, forcing her face to down to his. “There is no condition on my love. No end to my desire. Don’t put them there, my love.”      – Matthew, Earl of Wallingford (A Very Sinful Valentine by Charlotte Featherstone)

You wanted hearts and flowers,” he murmurs.

I blink at him, not quite believing what I’m seeing.

You have my heart.” And he waves toward the room.

And here are the flowers,” I whisper, completing his sentence. “Christian, it’s lovely.”      – Christian Grey & Anastasia Steele (Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James)

From his inside jacket pocket he produces a ring and gazes up at me, his eyes bright gray and raw, full of emotion. "Anastasia Steele, I love you. I want to love, cherish and protect you for the rest of my life. Be mine. Always. Share my life with me. Marry me."      Christian Grey (Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James)

“You saved me again," she told him with a starstruck gaze.

He cupped her cheek and gave her a tender smile in the dark. "Because you are my princess and I am your knight.”      – Princess Serafina & Darius Santiago (Princess by Gaelen Foley)

Sexiest Quotes

[...] But Jane, tonight I’m going to watch–and so are you. It will not be dark when I look upon you. There will be no clothes–only your skin. There will be no wiggling and squirming away from me. You will lie still and let me look. I will take as long as I want, gorge myself on the sight of you, and you will not resist. You will not utter one word to the contrary. You will accept everything I give you. And you will be loved, Jane. Loved so that you never forget that you are the only woman for me. You always have been. And you always will be.”      – Matthew, Earl of Wallingford (A Very Sinful Valentine by Charlotte Featherstone)

You know what I used to dream about, in stir?" His voice was hoarse, the words low and fast and faintly guttural. "I used to dream about you. You were the only clean and good and decent thing left in my life, and I would dream about you. I used to dream about taking your clothes off piece by piece, and what you would look like naked, and how it would feel to fuck you really good. I used to dream about that in high school, too. In fact, I got off almost every night for the last fourteen years, dreaming about you." Rachel's lips parted with shock. Speechless, she stared at him wide-eyed for what seemed an eternity while her heart suddenly hammered and her throat went dry.

"I'm fucking tired of dreaming,”      – Johnny Harris (One Summer by Karen Robards)

Thoroughly ruffled, Rachel turned her back on the source of her annoyance and started for the door. She could feel his gaze on her, and the notion that he was watching her made her suddenly self-conscious. In her teetering heels, she could not help but sway.

Just as she reached the door, he made an odd sound that caused her to glance back at him, startled.

Rachel,” he said in what was scarcely more than a husky whisper, while his eyes drilled into hers, “don’t sleep with him. Sleep with me instead.”

Her breath caught for a moment as the words coiled around her like a seductive snake. Only by forcing herself to keep walking was she able to escape.”      – Johnny Harris & Rachel Grant (One Summer by Karen Robards)

Oh, fuck the paperwork”      – Christian Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James)

Prettiest Covers

Once Upon a Moonlit Night Book Cover

Once Upon a Moonlit Night by Elizabeth Hoyt* 

Sweet Annie Book Cover

Sweet Annie
by Cheryl St. John

To Love and to Cherish Book Cover

To Love and to Cherish
by Patricia Gaffney

Sexiest Cover

 K is for Kissed Book Cover

K Is for Kissed
by JossiLynn*

Most Interesting/Unusual Covers

Saving Poughkeepsie Book Cover

Saving Poughkeepsie
by Debra Anastasia

Fifty Shades of Grey Book Cover

Fifty Shades of Grey
by E. L. James

Fifty Shades Darker

Fifty Shades Darker
by E. L. James

*This book was published in 2016.

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